Wine is a Mocker

The inimitable Louis Theroux produced a documentary aired on television this week. It was called ‘Drinking to Oblivion’ and was about people addicted to alcohol and the treatment they sought. With one exception, viewers could feel overwhelming sympathy for the people interviewed and observed.

Booze has basically devastated their lives. Not only was it destroying their bodies via liver damage, it has ruined their wealth, relationships and careers. One young man was filmed walking out of hospital immediately before treatment because he simply had to go out and buy another bottle of vodka. Yet that was the very thing killing him! He was enslaved to it. It beckoned him, and he obeyed.

It’s mandatory at this point to disclaim that most people drink sensibly etc and that these individuals, pitiable though they are, were extreme. Granted. Yet alcohol is responsible for much social decay- domestic violence, Friday night thuggery, and all sorts of vandalism and damage.

It was for these reasons that Christians in America persuaded their federal government to ban the stuff back in the 1920s. This was disastrous; drinking merely went underground and booze-production into the hands of organised crime. Like Cromwell’s godly government of the 1650s, America failed to impose a saintly lifestyle on unregenerate hearts. In our own country, the nineteenth century saw the rise of the temperance bands and teetotalism (a term first coined in Preston) which was the movement aimed at persuading people to sign the pledge of abstinence. The nonconformist chapels, in which Martin Top is numbered, provided the movement with its impetus and organisation. Few members of our chapel would have drunk alcohol back then; our use of blackcurrant cordial for Communion is a part of this legacy.

It was not always this way, however. In some research I conducted at university, I came across a Methodist Sunday School giving beer to their children after lessons. Can you imagine that happening today? When I became a member of the Free Methodist Church at Lancaster back in October 1996, I had to agree not to drink, smoke, or gamble. In fact I couldn’t even enter an occupation that sold alcohol or tobacco. Although I myself still abstain, I could not preach the temperance gospel without straying into anti-Christian legalism (‘Thou shalt not drink’) or gnostic-sounding asceticism (‘Do not eat, do not drink, do not touch’). Indeed, Paul event urges Timothy to drink wine for the good of his stomach. It is worth noting, however, that Timothy was evidently abstaining from wine to start with.

Christians may of course drink alcohol. God made it; it is therefore good. But they must consider weaker brethren and the evil that this liquid can cause. I’ll not become a drinker any time soon.